By Lynda Bourne
The effective management of knowledge has received some extra attention in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Sixth Edition (to be published in 2017).
And it should—it’s an important area.
While there are many aspects to effective knowledge management, in this post, I want to take a look at the foundation: transforming data into wisdom from a project controls perspective.
As astronomer Clifford Stoll once said, “Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”
He had a point—information changes in character as it is processed. Consider work performance data, the raw observations and measurements made during the execution of project work. For example, knowing that an activity is 25 percent complete on its own has little direct value.
Basic information starts to be created out of this data when it is analysed and assessed. For example, an analysis of this data might reveal the activity should be 75 percent complete and, as a consequence, is running three days late.
This information then becomes useful when it is placed in context and integrated with other relevant bits of information. For example, a report might explain that the activity is on the critical path and the delay has a direct effect on the predicted project completion date.
Converting that useful information into knowledge means communicating it to the right people. For example, when someone reads the report, he or she becomes aware that the activity is running late.
Understanding that knowledge requires the person to interpret and appreciate the consequences of the delay. Interpreting one piece of information to create understanding can happen in many different people’s minds (lots of people may read the report) and each will derive very different insights from the same set of facts. One person may see the delay as relatively minor, while another may think it’s critically important. Understanding is based on the frame through which each person views the fact.
Finally, using the person’s understanding of the situation to inform wise decisions and actions is completely dependent on the capabilities, attitude and experience of the individual.
Who Controls that Conversion of Data?
PMBOK® Guide Fig. 3.5
As shown in the extract from the PMBOK® Guide Fifth Edition above, project controls professionals drive the conversion of data into useful information. By using work performance reports to communicate effectively, they can actively encourage the transition of information into knowledge in key people’s minds, and by providing context and advice they can positively influence the development of that person’s understanding to support wise decision making (manifested in the “project management plan updates”).
But achieving this effect requires more than simply collecting and processing data. It requires analysis, insight and effective communication skills.
How effectively do you transform raw data into useful information that helps your key stakeholders make wise decisions?